The news that Republican National Committee chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel is planning on conducting an “autopsy” of the 2022 election brought horrible political flashbacks to a decade ago. That was when the post-2012 election autopsy of Mitt Romney’s failure gave the GOP all the wrong lessons about what was making them lose.
You might remember that 2012 autopsy. It was the one that prescribed moving left on immigration policy as essential to appealing to Hispanic voters. As a now-infamous three sentences put it:
We are not a policy committee, but among the steps Republicans take in the Hispanic community and beyond, we must embrace and champion comprehensive immigration reform. If we do not, our party’s appeal will continue to shrink to its core constituencies only. We also believe that comprehensive immigration reform is consistent with Republican economic policies that promote job growth and opportunity for all.
Of course, since that was written, the GOP has dramatically increased its appeal to Hispanics, winning increased percentages in 2016 and 2020, and in 2022 achieving the highest levels of support from them in any midterm cycle. They’ve done so not by softening on immigration policy, but by emphasizing tougher borders and the need to crack down on human trafficking. It turns out Hispanics share the same priorities as other voters on the economy, crime, and education. Who knew?
McDaniel’s approach will reportedly include input from a diverse group of Republican candidates who won — Alabama’s Katie Britt, Texas’s Monica De La Cruz and Michigan’s John James. It will be interesting to hear Britt, former chief of staff to the senator she replaced, weigh in on the marked challenge of a Republican winning in Alabama. It helps if your Democratic opponent gets less than 31 percent of the vote.
McDaniel will include some views from those who lost in 2022 as well — Arizona’s Blake Masters, who has criticized the party for adopting “consultant one-size-fits-all strategies,” will also weigh in. Perhaps he can start by looking at his own choice for campaign manager in thirty-year-old Amalia Halikias, who had never run a campaign of any kind, let alone one against an incumbent senator in a statewide race that was critical to the Senate hopes of the GOP. Sometimes the reason that one-size-fits-all strategies are deployed in politics is because they’re proven to consistently work.
In the context of the moment, it’s possible to view McDaniel’s autopsy plans as a hedge against another losing candidate, one who dramatically overperformed expectations: New York’s Lee Zeldin, who is attracting buzz as her potential replacement. Last week, he received the backing of the chair of the Republican Party of Texas, and the possibility of moving on from McDaniel’s approach appeals to many Republican activists who believe the GOP needs a new direction.
Ultimately it’s unlikely that any assessment of the 2022 election will deal with the biggest reason they lost: inexperienced outsider candidates in key statewide elections who ran poor campaigns (or, in the case of Pennsylvania’s Doug Mastriano, no campaigns at all). The resurrection of Republican fortunes that’s happened since 2012 was largely achieved by casting aside the assumptions party brass held about the barriers to success: it would be silly to fall back on those assumptions again. The only thing the 2012 autopsy truly got right was that it was about a party that was dead.